Sunday, 10 June 2018

Tom Moss: One of a Kind – by Wayne Moss


The big bang heard in Victoria on 10 August 1935, was the mould breaking shortly after Tom Moss was born. Raised there with his brothers Gary and Norm (both now deceased), Tom’s childhood was an experience now unheard of, due to urbanization. Imagine living in Central Saanich, hunting and fishing within a short distance of home. The once abundant pheasants are now gone, and ducks found in most farmers’ fields can now be hunted only in small areas under strict regulations.

Tom’s passion for fishing started developing in the early 1950s. His first boat, a 12-footer with a 3.5 hp motor, was anchored in Towner Bay on Saanich Inlet. He fished often, learning the Inlet’s secrets, and was soon guiding. His knowledge and ability to develop new methods to make fishing easier and more successful, quickly made him one of the high-liners in southern Vancouver Island waters.

When Tom partnered with local fishing legend Jimmy Gilbert (who died in 2000), they started designing new salmon tackle and devised special ways of cutting their baits. They would even ask clients to swipe their wives’ nylon stockings. These were filled with rocks, then rigged with a drop release fashioned from a paper clip. When a fish was hooked, the drop release opened, the rocks fell away, and the fish could then be played without any weight. If that sounds like a forerunner to the downrigger, you’re right.

They also developed a system for rigging a whole herring so it rolled like wounded baitfish. This consisted of a double hook setup attached to a herring with a wire wrapped around its nose, and the line running through a metal helmet that fit over its head. Suspending their invention from a length of line tied to a 12-foot bamboo pole, Tom and Jimmy walked up and down the dock discussing their new technique as the herring rolled slowly though the water in an enticing manner. It looked so good, in fact, that a lingcod living under the dock decided the obviously crippled herring would make an easy meal. However, the 25-pounder was pulled out onto the dock so fast, it didn’t have time to react. It was invited to dinner than evening, as the main course.

Tom did whatever necessary to pay the bills: guiding on and off for the Gilberts from 1952, cutting herring strip for Rhys Davis, and working in steel construction. In 1954 his life took a dramatic turn. While working on a building in Victoria, he fell three stories down an elevator shaft, landing on a 2- X 12-inch plank laying flat across some vertical rebar at the bottom. Had the plank not been there it would have meant certain death. As it was, his back was broken.

Tom lived n a full body cast for over two years. His doctors said he would never walk again or do any physical work for the rest of his life. The Workman’s Compensation Board tried having him trained as a cobbler, but Tom pressed on, living with the pain and continued with his life. His dream of becoming a fireman like his father was over, and he decided that doctors weren’t his favourite people.
Despite the pain, Tom still went fishing. He would stubbornly struggle into a small rowboat, then row out to his boat anchored offshore. After untying the line from the anchor buoy, he would pull himself up the stern to climb aboard. While doing this, he once fell in and sank like a rock. By sheer luck he landed on the anchor chain, which he used as a lifeline to pull himself 40 feet to the surface. He called out for assistance and was eventually helped from the water.

Although in constant pain, Tom guided year-round and continued developing his ideas. The top chinook lures in those days were wooden plugs. Although productive, he always modified every one by re-carving their noses, adjusting the tow bars, and trying different colour patterns. A plug never went into the water unless it looked right and swam properly with an enticing wiggle. Over time, the plugs absorbed water. The added weight reduced their action and swelling caused the paint to crack and flake off, making them virtually useless. As a result, Tom spent much time drying plugs in the oven at home, then repainting them.

Early on, Tom decided that a plug made from plastic would never fill with water and would always swim properly. Thus, in 1962, while living in Brentwood, he perfected the prototype of a 3-inch plug that was used to make the original die for the first Tomic Plug. They were injection-moulded from butyrate plastic, with metal tow bars that were inserted by hand. Each was then spray painted with durable, long lasting lacquer. Little did Tom realize that this was the birth of Tomic Lures. Ltd.
The original design was a great success. Local guides and commercial salmon trollers were soon begging for more plugs. As catch rates increased, Tom was pressured into developing more sizes and colours to match various types of baitfish and water conditions. The Tomic line increased to 5- and 7- inch models, then 4- and 5-inches.

Tom created a flasher that became popular with the commercial industry, a large, washboard design introduced as the Sonic. It was very effective, but too big for sport fishing. He still sells a few, though, mainly as attractors for downrigger fishing.

When some markets requested a jointed plug, Tom set about creating one. The 4-inch Classic Plug was redesigned into a jointed model rigged with two treble hooks. The Broken Back swims like a live baitfish and is now a standby for anglers throughout the world.

When the commercial salmon industry was booming, Tomic Lures Ltd. was a major player with 7,000 trollers from California to Alaska. Running two shifts with up to 25 employees, Tom’s small plant in Sooke was hard pressed to keep up with the demand. When the commercial troll fishery started its demise in 1984, Tom realized his business would decline accordingly, meaning it was time to rethink the market.

These days his main markets are still in North America, but orders from Europe’s Atlantic salmon, pike and trout anglers have been growing steadily. Since, 1996, Tomic Plugs have been No. 1 in Sweden, and the lure of choice for every Lax Cup Derby, the world’s largest Atlantic salmon derby. Americans who favour striped bass, bluefish, tarpon and wahoo, use so many plugs that Tom’s winter slow periods are now booming. And of course, they are popular on the Great Lakes for chinooks and coho, and elsewhere for lake trout.

Now in his late 60s, Tom continues playing with new ideas, and recently introduced a spoon to sport anglers that he had sold for years to commercial fishermen in Washington, Oregon and California. Quickly becoming a favourite with many anglers in British Columbia, Road Runners are available in three sizes from 3 to six inches – in colours that have been catching big salmon and trout for years.

Tom recently sold the Sooke property and shop that was so much a part of his life in 1969, then purchased some beautiful property near Campbell River. There he established a new factory and continues creating lures for hard core anglers. Having seen the best and the worst of salmon fishing on the West Coast, he is still dedicated to helping people catch fish. He also does his best to get out fishing more, and still catches his share – and still changes his gear every 20 minutes, whether the bite is on or off.

Although he might stretch the truth a bit while relating the occasional fish story, he is as honest as they come. He believes what he says, so you can, too. He doesn’t fish Saanich Inlet anymore, referring to it as the Dead Sea, and hates visiting Victoria because he despises the changes caused by urbanization. He swears at seals when they take his fish, hates computers, and loves fishing and deer hunting. He’s a true dinosaur – the best of his kind. I consider myself lucky to have been taught to fish by one of the best in the business – my father Tom Moss.

(This originally ran in Island Fisherman in the early 2000s. It is among the extensive Jimmy Gilbert memorabilia maintained by Joan Gilbert, who kindly let me snap hundreds of images earlier in 2018. These will appear on this blog in due course.

Of the many Tomic plugs I own, some were particularly good in Saanich Inlet when I learned to saltwater fish in the '70s and '80s: the 225, a pink plug, and the 427, a greenish one.)

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Cecil Unwin 2

[See post immediately beneath this post, for the other information on Cecil Unwin]

Text from Ron Meuse: Cecil, born 1883, came to Canada with 3 sisters in 1912, building a house in Oak Bay, leaving his brother and other sisters behind in London. He enlisted as a Private in the 88th Battalion, Victoria Fusiliers and fought in Ypres, Somme then was wounded while retreating from Vimy Ridge, 12 April 1917 with the 28th Battalion.

For two years, he wrote home to his sisters here and I have about 30 original letters of his describing his experiences. Seven of these letters have a passing reference to fishing or his boat. Attached is a transcription one describing what he went through during his convalescence, just over 100 years ago.

Also included, is a photo of his name plate. I thought it might be from his house or mail box, but it has been suggested it might be the name plate for his later boat. Also, some photos of his sisters in small boats, possibly in Cowichan Bay or off Oak Bay circa 1920.

DCR: here is a bit from one of the letters (you will notice the period way of speaking) that mentions the pain Unwin was in in the hospital, and how he tried to keep from succumbing to it by imagining fishing. He was only partly successful: 

“Now I became something of an expert on pain at the Ettappes(sic) & really one can do a lot with it with careful management. I remember one night when as it got bad I made myself think of salmon fishing & caught enormous imaginary fish till at last the pain got too strong & broke through. Then I got outside my body & considered the pain from an outside point of view counting the waves of pain as they came up & trying to think that the seventh wave was always the biggest. After a time, a wave swamped me & I fetched up in a litter in the middle of a village in the Himalayas. I had a very interesting talk with the inhabitants about goats & kept thinking how I must remember what they said to tell you, but I ought to have written it down for next day I could not remember a word. It was rather like Una & Dams experience. The only thing that troubled me was that although I tried desperately I could not get out of the litter. Next morning the night sister told me that I had yelled and bawled all night and tried to throw myself out of bed & really I had spent a very pleasant evening!”

And now, some images. The first two are Unwin’s sisters, circa 1920, and likely off Oak Bay.:

Now a couple of photos of Unwin himself with fish and trophy, as well as the silver VSIAA button he won for his 33 pounder in 1938:

Of historical interest though not about fishing Cecil Harrow Unwin's historical record:

Born in England, Nov. 1883, lived in Hern Hill, London
Arrived in Victoria with sisters Mabel, Effie and Hilda in 1913. Sisters Lizzie, Ada and brother Edward stayed behind in London
Built house in Oak Bay, 2178 Beaver St. (now Beaverbrook), just off Hampshire
Raised goats and chickens with sisters. Many Ads for eggs in early Colonist papers
Enlisted with the 88th Victoria Fusiliers Private #180685
Left on the SS Princess Charlotte with the 88th.  May 23, 1916
Then by train to Halifax then to England onboard SS Olympic with 5 other battalions in June, 1916
Wrote home to Oak Bay over the next two years, about 30 letters were among his belongings as found
Trained in Otterpool camp then East Sanding camp and Lydd, England
Assigned to the 2nd Entrenching Battalion, then 28th Northwest Battalion, (The 6th Brigade, 27th, 28th, Tobins Tigers 29th and 31st earned the named “The Iron Six” for the St. Eloi and Ypres engagements)
Went to Ypres and did the “Big Push” at the Somme
Witnessed the first use of tanks in Courecette, September 1916 and Aeroplanes in use over the trenches, the time flying ace William Barker was at same battle
Captured Vimy Ridge, April 9th 1917, up to the ‘Blue Line’ through town of Thelus
Got wounded while retreating from Vimy near Neuville St. Vaast on April 12th
Evacuated to Etaples hospital, survived due to the new Carrel-Daken treatment for wounds
Spent 9 months in various Canadian hospitals in England: Cambridge, Bearwood and Kinkaid
Married Clara Lawson before returning to Victoria, wedding announcement in same Colonist edition as the Halifax Explosion
Arriving home 18th Jan 1918
After the war, became a Postal Clerk, Clara raised goats and ran Oak Bay Dry Goods store
Later retired to Cowichan and loved salmon fishing, won several trophies
Passed away July 1948 in Duncan.
Local names mentioned in the letters:
Major E.A.I. Pym,Major Harrison, Lt.Co. Rous Cullen, 88th
Lt. Lukin (Rufus) Johnstone, (Cowichan and Colonist journalist), Lt. H. Pocock, Capt. Twigg, and Micky the 88th mascot
William Blakemore, editor ‘The Week’
Mr. Moore, Pte. H.I.B.Browne (180589 KIA Sept 1916, buried at Vimy Memorial), Dave Gay, Teddy Payne, Dave Gay of Victoria
Joe Rennie of Hampshire St, Oak Bay, Sister married C.H.Hinkens of Oak Bay
Richard Bledsoe(180734) of Port Alberni, Mr. Darcy of Pender Island
Inspected by Sam Hughes in Aug 1916, Robert Borden in March 1917
Sisters met the Duke, Duchess, and Princess Patricia in Victoria, summer 1916, He previously met the Duke in Ottawa

Saanich Inlet Angling History: Cecil H. Unwin

Ron Meuse sent me the following images, and asked any reader who knows details about Unwin to get in touch with him (send me an email and I will forward it to Ron).

The four photos below are from the VSIAA’s 1939 Yearbook. The images have good resolution and you can zoom into them for details. The first, blue one, is the cover, 1939 being a royal visit year, in May.

The image below the text shows a venerable Clendon spoon from the era, aka the Wonder Spoon. The right side of the page is Unwin with a big chinook, along with the trophy he won. It is inscribed: International Champion, Winner of “The Joker” Cup. As we all know, fishing is a high-class sport, and Cecil sports a suit with his arm around a plus 30-pound spring. You will note the fight was so ferocious he had to take his tie off after the fight to cool off, or so I say.


 The image below on the left shows a classic wood-hulled fishing boat and is part of an ad for Creed’s Landing (Between Angler’s Anchorage and Gilbert’s on Brentwood Bay). The right side of the page has the buttons to be won for catching a chinook of prescribed weight: bronze for a 20 to 30-pound fish; silver for 30- to 40-pounds; gold for plus 40 pounds; and, a gold championship award for the biggest fish of the year, with a diamond in the medal.

Note that among the rules: “the winning of a button makes the holder a member of the Chinook Club for life (see Chinook Club rules).”

The right-hand image is a list of button-qualifying chinook and their captors for April to August 1938. Note the names that anyone who lives in the Victoria area will recognize as street names, and of local lore. The yellow slip beside the list notes Unwin’s 33-pound chinook taken on August 28.


Please excuse that the images and text got scrambled in making this post to the blog.